EL SEGUNDO — Facing a $700,000 budget deficit, the City Council decided this week to impose sewer fees for the first time on residential, industrial and commercial property owners.
The action will have the greatest impact west of Sepulveda Boulevard, where virtually all of the city's residents live. Most businesses east of Sepulveda are not affected because they use a county treatment facility rather than the city's sewage system. Those that do use the city's system already are charged for it through a special assessment district.
The action, which takes effect March 1, imposes permit and inspection charges for businesses that dump industrial waste into city sewer lines, sewer connection fees for new construction and monthly service fees to cover the cost of treating waste and maintaining sewer equipment.
The monthly service fees--the only charges that were criticized during the council meeting Tuesday--will cost most residential customers between $1.20 to $2.55 a month, based on the amount of water they use, said Public Works Director Bill Glickman.
El Segundo has been the only city in the South Bay not charging a sewer fee. Business licensing fees and employee and sales taxes from the Chevron USA refinery and giant industries east of Sepulveda have covered most or all of the cost of sewage and several other services to property owners on the west side of town, including tree trimming, parks and recreation and garbage collection.
But city officials say residents may have to start paying for many of those services. The city can no longer dip into its reserve fund to balance the budget because a slowdown in the aerospace industry, falling oil prices and other factors could reduce sales and employee tax revenues and make it difficult to replace reserve funds, said City Manager Arthur E. Jones.
Several residents who spoke at the meeting opposed the fees and were concerned that the monthly charges could rise in future years if El Segundo's budget deficits continue.
"I think this is the beginning of a nightmare," said Chamber of Commerce President Fred Roberts. "Once we approve fees it is very easy to raise fees by 3 to 4 cents, which may sound like a pittance but I can imagine that one day our sewer fees might match our water fees."
Most water customers pay between $5 and $60 a month, depending on the time of year and the amount of outside watering they do, the Finance Department said.
With the exception of Councilman Carl Jacobson, who voted against the monthly service charge, city officials said the sewer fees are necessary, noting that the city has seen a constant decrease in revenue during last four years.
"When you say that you are concerned about sewer fees--well, I think that you have had a free flush for a long time," said Mayor Jack Siadek.
The connection fee applies only to new construction on the west side of Sepulveda. Owners of new homes or duplexes will be charged $580 to connect to the city's sewer system. Commercial and industrial buildings, including multifamily dwellings three units or larger, will be charged $1,276 for every 1,000 square feet of floor space.
City officials say the three fees together should generate almost $530,000 a year. The council is considering other fee increases to make up the rest of the deficit.